When University of Utah soccer head coach Rich Manning was young, Disneyland didn’t give admission to all the rides. Those who paid for a ticket to get into the park then had to buy a book of tickets, and E tickets would give customers access to the best rides. Manning now compares that excitement he felt about a Disneyland E ticket to the time he has spent coaching at Utah.
“It’s been a thrill,” Manning said. “It’s been a great place to fulfill my professional dreams. We have been at the forefront of the change of college athletics, and the growth [of] that part has kept it new and vibrant the whole time for sure.”
Manning’s connection to soccer started at a young age. At seven years old, Manning and his siblings played tee-ball for two years. When their dad went to sign them up to play for the third season, registration was closed. With tee-ball no longer an option, Manning’s father signed his kids up for soccer, and since the age of nine soccer has been a big part of Manning’s life.
Manning went on to play soccer at Santa Clara University, and he even competed in the semi-pro leagues of Los Angeles, but when his playing time came to an end, Manning wanted to stay involved with the game. Manning decided to take up coaching, but he never saw himself coaching a Pac-12 team.
“It just kind of grew to that,” Manning said. “I was a high school math teacher for 11 years in Southern California, and I was coaching at the all-boys school I was teaching at for a while. I was coaching boys teams for a while and then started coaching girls youth high school teams and it kind of evolved.”
Assistant coach Scott Halasz has been with Manning for four seasons, almost five with this fall season approaching. Halasz couldn’t be more happy with Manning as the leader. Halasz said that not only have these years with Manning been fantastic, he thinks Manning is one of the nicest guys in the industry.
“[Manning] is very supportive of the staff, and he helps nurture us to grow to maybe become head coaches ourselves, and he has such a great demeanor with the kids,” Halasz said. “He has been a breath of fresh air.”
Since joining the Utah coaching staff in 2002, Manning has had his fair share of memorable moments. One even includes his first game as head coach when Utah defeated then No. 4 Portland, and the Pilots went on to win the National Championship that season.
That same year, Utah made it into the NCAA Tournament, and it matched up with in-state rival BYU. Up until that point, the Utes had yet to beat the Cougars in the 12 games they played against each other. The game went into overtime as the teams were tied at 2-2, but the Utes scored the game-winning goal off a free kick from former Ute Megan Maxwell.
“[The BYU game] was important because it just signaled to the program and the players that the sky’s the limit,” Manning said. “This past year, the NCAA Tournament game against Florida State was a big one because they had been to the final four five years in a row, so those games really signaled that we can beat and compete with the best.”
With the new season approaching, Manning is aware his team will have to readjust, not only because of the new freshmen coming in, but because of the seniors who left. Manning said the environment on the team is well defined and filled with people who work well together, and he credits both the staff and the players. Manning is confident that with the “clean and clear environment,” the incoming Utes will know what is expected of them.
“I do know that those seniors left a mindset — they helped create a mindset — and that hasn’t left us,” Manning said. “In working with the team in the spring, I can tell that mindset is still there, that their standards are high, they believe in themselves, they believe they can be the best, and they can work hard and go for it, so that gives me a lot of confidence heading into the fall.”
Manning can’t wait to see how everything comes together at the start of the new season.
“I’m excited to see the end of the movie,” Manning said. “These players have been working on putting the script together, getting all their scenes shot, getting the crew together and casting. Now, we get to play the movie out, and I want to see how it ends because these players have worked hard, and I’m proud of them, and I’m excited to see what this fall will bring.”